Do Public Guardianships Help the Elderly?

To get some help today, we have Dr. Pamela Teaster with us to talk about public guardianships and whether it is in the best interest of incapacitated people. Dr. Teaster is a human development and family science professor at Virginia Tech and director of the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology. First, Dr. Teaster explains what public guardianship means. When a person is deemed to lack capacity and has no responsible person to make decisions on their behalf, the state will then appoint a public guardian. Sadly, not many people know about this unconstitutional process called public guardianship. Tune in as Dr. Teaster explains why we should be concerned about public guardianship and what seniors need to know about sexual abuse in residential care settings.

In This Episode:

  • [02:55] What exactly public guardianship means, and why older adults are appointed guardians more often than younger adults.   
  • [07:20] The history behind public guardianship.  
  • [10:00] Why seniors should be concerned about public guardianship. 
  • [14:15] With public guardianship, the guardian becomes the state – it’s a critical distinction to understand. 
  • [18:00] Dr. Teaster speaks about the problem of sexual abuse in residential care settings.  

Key Takeaways:

  • Your civil rights are under fire because of public guardianship – look up the laws in your state about this complicated process. 
  • Total guardianship will reduce an adult to the legal status of a child. 
  • You want to try to stay out of the public guardian program as much as you possibly can.
  • Sexual abuse in residential care settings is more likely to happen with another resident than a staff member. 


Center for Gerontology:
Email Dr. Teaster:

Meet Pamela Teaster

Pamela Teaster is a professor of human development and family science at Virginia Tech and director of the Virginia Tech Center for Gerontology.

Teaster has a long history of serving the public interest in ensuring that older Americans receive protection from exploitation and abuse by those in positions of power or trust. Her ongoing research focuses on the mistreatment of elders and vulnerable adults, public and private guardianship, end-of-life issues and decision-making, ethical treatment and human rights issues of vulnerable adults, and public affairs and policy. She is the coauthor or coeditor of four books and more than a hundred peer-reviewed articles, reports, and book chapters.

In addition to her scholarship, Teaster is on the editorial board of the Journal of Elder Abuse and Neglect. She is a fellow of both the Gerontological Society of America and the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education. She is an active board member and former president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. She also serves as secretary on the Board of Trustees for the Center for Guardianship Certification and secretary general of the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.

Before joining the Virginia Tech faculty, Teaster served as director of the Center for Gerontology and chair of the Department of Gerontology at the University of Kentucky, where she also served as director of the Ohio Valley Appalachia Regional Geriatric Education Center, director of doctoral studies, and associate dean for research at the College of Public Health. She founded the Kentucky Guardianship Association and was its first president. She also founded the Kentucky Justice Center for Elders and Vulnerable Adults.